For this new blog I am asking for feedback from readers. This got me thinking about the purpose and value of feedback. It is all around us, encouraged at work from customers and colleagues, solicited when we buy something and requested for almost every other transaction. I recently was asked for feedback from my optician. The temptation is to ignore such requests, where the transaction is routine and no problems, or exceptional service, occurred. This is almost the correct reaction.
The Oxford University Dictionary defines feedback as “Information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc, which is used as a basis for improvement.” So the purpose of giving feedback is to improve the product, service or individual. By this definition there is no need to comment, unless you have identified an area for improvement. The problem with this approach is that companies are then not informed of satisfactory or exemplary incidents and can base their judgement of employees on the minority who complain.
Some years ago I applied for the same internal job in two different locations. I submitted exactly the same application and exactly the same process was used. Both applications were unsuccessful. The feedback was totally different. One marked a specific competency as 4, out of 4. The other gave it 1. Which was I supposed to accept in order to improve? I choose neither and submitted the same application for the next role that came up. I got the job. Since then I have mostly ignored feedback about me at work, trusting my own opinion above the opinions of others. After all I know myself better than anyone else.
As a writer I receive different opinions on my work from friends, readers and editors. Where they contradict each other I have to evaluate the differences and decide if there is room for improvement. Often this causes me to doubt myself. With the exception of practical issues such as grammatical errors, I now question feedback more rigorously before accepting it.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion. That is a fundamental right and should always be respected. The difficulty is in deciding the opinions that matter. I value my own and those of the editors who assess the merits of my work. All others are information that may or may not be used as a basis for improvement.